Friday, February 10, 2006

thank you, cary.

i am usually ambivalent about cary tennis' advice in his salon column - he can be too wishy-washy, too ephemeral, too inscrutible. he can be plain old wrong as well. but today's column is worth a read, because he really nails it. a grad student writes in about not knowing how to tell his more-well-off friends that he can't afford to attend their destination wedding. a snippet:

...every time someone tells the truth about money in America it makes me happy.

It makes me happy because I know the power of money to shame us into distorting the truth and abandoning our values. We might become artists or musicians or study arcane and little-understood phenomena, we might live more simply, we might dedicate ourselves to what we love, we might take time off from work to improve our lives and our relationships, we might spend more time with our children, if it weren't for the fear of not having enough money, or appearing to not have enough money.

And we might indeed have enough actual money to do what we need to do if we were realistic and honest about what we need, and did not spend money to avoid being shamed or excluded or misunderstood or thought poorly of.

Rather than say, "I'm sorry, your destination wedding in Hawaii does not fit my budgetary plans for fiscal year 2006," we say, "I'm so happy for you, I'll be there!" We pretend to have money that we do not have. And then we create for ourselves a set of unreasonable expectations. We attend a wedding we cannot afford to attend and give gifts we cannot afford to buy. And then we pay later. We pay with our time. We pay with our dreams.

(emphasis mine)

yes, yes, yes - a small, squeaking voice of reason amidst the cacophony of consumer insanity! i know these observations probably seem self-evident to most of us, but in society, i think this perspective is often shamed and shouted down into silence by pop culture, by advertising, by product placement and stock tickers and corporate logos on school gymnasiums and national parks. it makes me happy to see someone, anyone, fighting that tide. bravo to you, cary.

1 comment:

elizalou said...


I've got two sisters, both with equally outrageous credit card debt. Sister A makes a pretty decent amount of money and yet lives pay check to pay check, only making minimum payments.

Sister B earns about $20k less per year, but somehow is managing to totally eradicate the credit card debt (all three of us will probably die still owing student loans) within two years. She lives frugally and really thinks about what she needs.

Sister A has become angry with Sister B on many occasions for actually taking a stand on speding foolishly. It's amazing how so many people think their financial mindset is the way to go.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck in the middle in every way in this situation, so I just hang my head and sigh.